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Labour board finds some of B.C. teachers’ withdrawals ‘unlawful’

Teachers can withdraw from "truly voluntary and extracurricular" activities without being deemed to be taking part in an illegal strike, B.C.'s labour board ruled.

But the sweeping withdrawal that they have been engaged in for the past two months – including refusing to meet with managers and do parent-teacher interviews – amounts to illegal strike activity, the board decided Friday.

"I find that the [B.C. Teachers' Federation] has declared or authorized an unlawful strike by directing or authorizing its members to withdraw from activities which, although they occur outside of instructional hours, may nonetheless be part of their work duties," LRB vice-chair Ritu Mahil wrote in a single-page "bottom line" decision.

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Those duties include participating in school-based team meetings, parent-teacher interviews and provincial initiatives such as kindergarten orientation, Ms. Mahil wrote, adding that the union is directed to "cease and desist from declaring or authorizing an unlawful strike in this manner."

Both sides in the long-running dispute welcomed different aspects of the decision.

The BCTF, which represents B.C.'s 41,000 teachers, said the ruling clarifies the distinction between voluntary and non-voluntary work.

"It [the ruling] reaffirms that the countless hours that teachers devote to extracurricular activities with students truly are voluntary," BCTF president Susan Lambert said in a statement. "We've always known that, but it's excellent to have it confirmed by the Labour Relations Board."

The B.C. Public School Employers' Association, which negotiates on behalf of school boards with the teachers, also welcomed the ruling, saying the focus of its complaint to the LRB was on activities that were being withdrawn and "are in no way voluntary and are duties and activities regularly and ordinarily performed by teachers as part of their normal work day."

The decision followed teachers' provincewide withdrawal from extracurricular activities in April to protest Bill 22.

That legislation, the Education Improvement Act, was passed in March and ended teachers' job action in which they had stopped doing some work, including preparing report cards and supervising recess.

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Teachers' withdrawal of extracurricular activities resulted in cancelled field trips, concerts and sports events. Parents stepped in to keep some events, especially graduation ceremonies, afloat.

Teachers and the provincial government are at loggerheads over issues including wages and class size and composition. The province insists a new contract for the BCTF must stick to a net-zero mandate, which requires new collective agreements to cost no more than the deal that they replace.

The union, meanwhile, says its members' wages have lost ground to teachers in other provinces and that the government has not adequately responded to a 2011 court decision that found parts of previous education legislation to be unconstitutional.

A government-appointed mediator is now in place and is scheduled to make recommendations by the end of June in the dispute.

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